Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trending downward – 316

I was recently asked for an explanation of the numbers at the ends of my titles. It was something that I started doing in January, after writing about my weight struggles and how I got to be the way I am.

One thing I have realized is that secrets are unhealthy. If we look at where my psychological flaws are, they tend to center around shame and denial. I never believed I was good enough, and I couldn’t bear to deal with it, which kept me unhealthy for a long time. As I started to realize that a lot of my worst fears and hang-ups were built upon false pretenses, I was working on healing and the answer in many cases seemed to be more openness. Share. Don’t hide.

My blog in 2008 pretty much laid all my secrets bare. In the beginning of the year I started with the three traumatic events that shaped my life, and the turnaround, a big part of that was my weight. I had defined myself by my weight for decades, especially in terms of my relationships with other people, believing that no one could love me until I lost weight. I guess to take away power from that number, and to reinforce that reality is what counts, and not what people think or know, I posted my weight at the end of that entry, and promised to keep posting it as a little side note throughout the year.

316 pounds is a lot for a 5’4” person (well, I think I might be 5’5” now, but I haven’t actually had a chance to check). However, I started at 344.5, so I have lost almost thirty pounds this year. It’s not as much as I wanted to lose, or as much as I need to lose, but there are people out there who would love to have lost thirty pounds this year (especially people who are only 30 pounds overweight, which I would love to be). Ultimately, I have to accept that it is not bad.

It is frustrating at times, trying to get this aging body into a shape that it never has been in, and sometimes the pressure of sharing it makes it worse. There have been days when I postponed blogging because I was up and did not feel like reporting it. Honestly, weighing every day is frustrating because there are fluctuations that don’t always make sense. Like one day, after having exercised the previous two days, I was up three pounds. I know I did not gain three pounds of muscle from two aerobic dance workouts. However, the overall direction is down, and I expect it to continue that way.

There has been other growth too. The other main trauma was my belief that I could not be loved or desired, and getting over that required not only sharing one traumatic event and one period of deep depression, but in July I started going over my entire romantic history, which is nothing to brag about, and every boy I’ve ever liked, and I had to dig pretty deep. Obviously I am still single, but I think I must have grown because two weeks ago a guy hit on me and I actually realized it at the time. That’s pretty major for me.

(Nothing happened. I wasn’t really feeling it, maybe because it was at a memorial service, maybe the chemistry just wasn’t there, but in the past it probably wouldn’t have happened, and if it did I wouldn’t have picked up on it because I wouldn’t have believed in the possibility.)

There’s still a long way to go. First of all, I don’t even know what my target weight should be. The BMI range for my weight is between 110 and 145 pounds, which is kind of a wide range (and I tend to believe the system is flawed). Mainly, I want to be healthy. Since I do not intend to become a female body-builder, I am pretty sure that I should be below 200 pounds, so I was thinking that when I get around there I will have my body fat measured, and try out the old presidential fitness tests. Actually, I did fairly well on the majority of those in grade school. I just could never master the flexed arm hang, and I am not sure that running laps is the best test of endurance—not without some training on good techniques and form. I have some time to figure it out. My more immediate concern is seeing if I can like the diabetes. Frankly, while I am unemployed and uninsured, I can’t afford the meds.

One thing that made me feel especially good is that I realized a few weeks ago that I haven’t binged at all, despite having plenty of motivation. It was never something that I did that often, so I don’t think that it will be nearly as important for the overall weight loss as my daily habits, but it was nice to see that I have gotten some improved coping skills. Again, when you are willing and able to face your problems, it makes a big difference.

Of my other big trauma, well, I still don’t drive. I will need to get to that eventually, but I am just going to need to have less on my plate before I can worry about it.

For boys, well, it would be nice if mistletoe could actually be relevant next year, but I am not making any promises. For now, I think I will stick to just working on being happier with myself, except it has occurred to me before that Powells would be a good place to go trolling for boys, and I think I may try testing that out next month.

One aspect of the weight concerns has been that I absolutely hate having my picture taken, and sometimes you just need to make a point of doing what is hard. So I will make sure to have my picture taken at least once a month over 2009, probably updating my Facebook profile or at least adding to my albums. With luck, it will start to document the incredible shrinking woman.

Living in perilous times – 315

With our hearts full of charity we can face the future with faith and hope, and that can sustain us through the trials. The trials are still there, though, and I can imagine at least some people wondering how I could write twice about the Second Coming with mentioning emergency preparedness. That is what we are going to talk about today.

My first priority is still going to be pretty spiritual in nature, and that is going to be cultivating the habit of listening for the still small voice. I remember reading about a steamboat explosion, and a man who lost his family. He had kept feeling that they shouldn’t board, and then that they should get off, multiple times, but he kept ignoring it.

I had read the article shortly before the September 11th attacks, and I remembered it as some people on the message boards were asking where God was, and yet we were learning how many more people could have been killed, but for some reason had waited to go in to work, or decided not to go in at all. It is important to remember that death is not the worst thing that can happen to us, but in addition, remember that guidance and protection are available.

Beyond that, there are many things that you can do to prepare, and my church calling has been related to that in one way or another for the past six year. Of all the temporal things you can do, I will tell you right now that the two most valuable are food storage and financial stability

By financial stability, I mean paying off your debts and building a reserve of savings. This requires living within your means, and planning, but will provide great peace of mind. I am truly regretting not doing this better now, and I am sure there are many others who will join me. It gives wonderful peace of mind to know that what you own is yours, and that collectors will not call. It gives peace of mind to know that if your income is stopped that you have savings that can cover the gap. It is important.

For food storage, you have to eat. Unemployment can affect the ability to purchase food, but there is room for many issues with the food supply. US dependence on importing food has led to some fears, but even the food that does not come internationally generally travels many miles to the consumer, and so when fuel prices skyrocketed, the price of food (and everything else) went up. You can delay buying new clothes or gadgets, but you still have to eat. Flooding in the Midwest destroyed several crops, local farmers had the worst year they could remember due to changes in weather patterns, and although gas is less expensive now, that is not likely to be permanent. Regardless of what obstacles come to finding affordable food, you will still need to eat.

I have been thinking about this a lot, and I feel like I need to start posting the newsletters I have been doing. I want that information to be readily available to anyone who might benefit from it.

I have done preparedness newsletters twice for Tanasbourne Ward and for Beaverton West Stake in between, but I am only going to start posting the more recent round of Tanasbourne newsletters. There would be a lot of redundancy in covering all of them, and I think I am better at it now anyway.

So, I have started a new blog: http://preparedspork.blogspot.com/

It seems like the only way to handle it. I’ve had qualms, like am I really such a narcissist that I need three blogs? Still, I feel like it is important. I will post one a week until we are caught up, and then just go monthly like the actual newsletter. There are about fifteen so far, and I guess about four more will come out by the time we are caught up.

I don’t know how useful some of them are. For example, the tips for preparing for an earthquake probably work with a 6.5 quake, but if we get a 9.0, will it hold up? I don’t know. Use your own judgment. I just like putting ideas out there (still fervently pro-thought).

Regardless of what you do or do not do, remember that the book of Revelations is ultimately a message of hope. Enduring through the apostasy and restoration and tribulations eventually leads to rich rewards. Those who die are safe. The martyrs are shown and they are fine. There is even a promise for those who have to go through the entire thing if we go back to Matthew 24:22…

“And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”

Even though things are hard now, at least with my family we don’t quite want it to happen yet, maybe because it feels so final. Reading Matthew 23:39, “…Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” makes me think that events will get bad enough that we will change our minds, and that would have to be a pretty dark time. With all of that to worry about, I still know that He will come, and things will be fine, and that until then He is aware of my needs and I am grateful for that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What does matter – 315.5

I said yesterday that the timeline does not really matter, but the fact that it may be delayed can matter in that one needs to be able to keep going for an indefinite time period. You can read about disasters in the news and feel like you need to repent, and that is a sensible response, but that would probably not be enough to keep you in a repentant state.

Dick Winwood was teaching us about motivation, and he gave three kinds. He used the example of taking his wife out to dinner, with motivation ranging from not wanting to get in trouble with his wife to wanting to do it because he cared about her.

· I have to do it (fear)
· I should do it (duty)
· I want to do it (love)

Why is charity the greatest of all? Certainly it is the trait that will bring us closest to God, and it sanctifies us, but I also believe that it may be the only thing that will sustain us through delays, and tribulations, and times of ease.

So let’s go back to that scenario of a catastrophic disaster, and people all over the world are repenting because they think Christ is returning now and they don’t want to burn. If He doesn’t come right away, how long will that religious fervor last? It will probably start to seem pretty silly, and they might get even wickeder as sort of a rebound effect.

Duty has more holding power, except it can start to feel like a sort of drudgery, and drudgery can wear you down until you are looking for an excuse to break free. Maybe one more trial comes and convinces you that there is no reward for righteousness, or you fall off the tracks a little and it feels good, and going further off track seems completely justifiable. (You can probably add Pascal’s wager as a subset of this—“It’s a good idea to do it”—but I suspect it would also not build much momentum. It seems fairly cynical, and cynicism is really opposite of faith.)

Duty and fear can both be starts, but at some point it needs to move into the heart. The person who was afraid feels something, the drudge finds some joy, and they begin to catch the vision. We need to be finding joy in our testimony, and have a desire to be good. It makes the difference between struggling to sustain our faith and having our faith sustain us.

Some time ago I was watching a video of someone talking about the murder of his friend. He had a lot of anger, and he was not religious, and I started thinking about how easy it is not to believe. Horrible things happen, and they can be understood, but it would also be easy to find religion ridiculous and not soften your heart to faith and forgiveness. Thinking about him, I feel like the key question would be, when you see your friend again, and know he is okay, and that he can never be hurt again, will that be enough? And I can see that some people will be filled with joy, and others will still be angry that the suffering happened at all.

The beauty of belief is that it opens you up to joy now. It will be wonderful to see my uncle again, and not to have to worry about money or health again, but I still get a tremendous amount of joy now from knowing that I am known, and loved, and that there is a plan for me. I receive joy from serving others, and feel confirmation and satisfaction through prayer and scripture reading. If we can connect to that joy we can serve for three years or thirty years. So finding that joy now is what matters most.

I don’t remember where I read it, but I did read a description at some point of Martin Luther’s change to belief in justification by faith, and I could totally imagine his feeling. I’m not saying he necessarily understood the process correctly, but he was weighed down by the burden of trying to save himself, and realized Christ had done it for him, and there was an overwhelming feeling of relief and gratitude.

I remember a friend who had been abused, and she thought she had put it behind her, but memories and pain were coming back, and suddenly she was able to let it go and be healed. I was confused at the time because it seemed so much like repentance, and it had not been her sin, but I remember her being filled with joy and love towards others. She was filled with charity.

I eventually came to understand that she was healed through the Atonement of Christ, and it covered pain as well as sin. In fact, it has to. It seems to me that His taking on the pain caused by the sins of others is what makes it possible for the price of those sins to be paid. And even if that pain is not caused by sin, but by foolishness, or germs, or accidents, there is still room for healing. There was room for my pain when I needed it, and I have had more love ever since.

All I can really say is that it is true. When He says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” it is true. When He says “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”, it is true. He is the way. Even if it is hard now, at least leave an opening for Him.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A proposed timeline for the Apocalypse – 318.5

Part of me is reluctant to do this, engaging in scriptural speculation. After all, as we read in Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.” However, I have some interesting ideas on the topic, that could get people thinking, and I do love doing that. So, I will proceed, but with the following guideposts and disclaimers.

· I am not giving an exact time, just a potential guideline.
· I am stating outright that I have no scriptural authority.
· In a very real way, the time doesn’t actually matter.

My very first speculation occurred many years ago. I had heard that that Mayan calendar showed the world ending in 2012, and I had also read that people counting back using the ages given in the Old Testament calculated its start at around 4004 BC. Giving the earth a 6000-year life span, I had thought would put its completion at about 2004. This was a math error, as I should have come up with 1996. Anyway, I split the difference and was thinking maybe around 2008, which at the time was still a long way off. I wasn’t married to the idea; I just kind of had it in mind.

The next key point happened with something President Bott said in reference to Revelations 8:1, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” Previously, all I had ever heard anyone do with this verse is use it humorously as proof that there are no women in Heaven (ha ha). What he did was point out that if to God a thousand years is as one day (many places, but let’s go with 2nd Peter 3:8), that this could represent about twenty-one years. He talked about many other things related to the second coming, and we didn’t really dwell on that point, but I did file it away.

A few years later I was in an institute class, and I honestly can’t remember if it was with Brother Dymock or President Woolley, but he was talking about how what happens in the Book of Mormon is a key to what happens in our times. I started pondering that, and what struck me was the first coming of the Savior. You had the sign of His birth, and everyone believed and repented, and then they fell away, and then the disasters struck with His death and He came, starting off a time of great peace (3rd Nephi).

This gave me a new idea of how things could work. We could have a huge series of disasters, or one big disaster—something that would cause lots of people to think that this is the end and repent, and then nothing happens. Things get better and stay peaceful and maybe even get kind of prosperous, so they forget and fall away and grow in wickedness and then BAM!

It makes sense in relation to many scriptures. Consider Luke 12 and Matthew 24, My Lord delayeth his coming, or 1st Thessalonians 5:2 and 2nd Peter 3:10, where they use the simile of a thief in the night.

Clearly there is supposed to be an element of surprise, and yet many people are looking for the Second Coming now. It grew with Y2K, and I expect to see another bump with December 21st, 2012, but people are expecting something. Every catastrophe that happens, from the World Trade Center attacks to Hurricane Katrina, makes people nervous, especially when several get bunched together, like the tsunami, followed by the earthquake in Pakistan, followed not long after by Katrina. They track these things over at raptureready.com (check out the rapture index).

You could argue that only the faithful are watching, and it is only the wicked that will be surprised, but in the parable of the ten virgins they are all virgins and all invited to the wedding, but half of them still run out of oil.

I am particularly interested in the December 21st 2012 date, because the Nephites did have a specific date. Samuel the Lamanite told them it would be five years until the star, and it was to the day. There are some interesting things scheduled for that time period. (Novelty theory has some really interesting ideas about the date, but they are pretty vague, and I’m not sure that the whole concept is scientifically sound.)

Regardless, I can totally imagine crazy bad things happening on that date, followed by an amazing religious revival that fades along with the fear as no one comes, but He still will come.

So that’s my theory, and it is certainly better thought out than my 2004 idea, but I am still not married to it.

First of all, no one does know, and I am not going to claim to know.

Secondly, it kind of doesn’t matter when it happens. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, it’s pretty much all the same to me, and whether I have four years or thirty years, what is required of me is pretty much the same.

In addition, prophecies just make a lot more sense after they are fulfilled. What Isaiah said about Cyrus is fairly clear, but I don’t think anyone knew how clear until it was fulfilled. I’m not sure even David guessed how literally the 22nd Psalm would be fulfilled. So while I feel confident that I understand prophesies about the learned man and the sealed book, or the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah coming together, or a voice speaking from the dust, it doesn’t necessarily help me picture the locusts with faces like men and tails like scorpions and hair like women, even if I have some guesses.

I would like to think that Jerusalem being under siege by the entire world and defended by two powerful servants of God for three and a half years would be fairly clear, but you know, maybe not. If everyone recognized it for what it was, they would be crazy not to retreat. (Unless maybe it was not the whole world, but the known world of that time, which would be primarily the middle east, and Muslim, so not necessarily drawing on the New Testament.) I am completely open to finding out that I didn’t understand.

I will mention one other thing that has been interesting to me. When I was in the Missionary Training Center there were about 46000 missionaries in the world. My roommates were learning Cantonese to go to Hong Kong, so I heard a lot about that, and one of the things that was said was that when China does open up, they will need to divert all the missionaries there, I assume because the population is so large and they have been without the Gospel for so long.

It could just be one of those faith-promoting rumors (they also believed that after finishing, all the Chinese-speaking former missionaries could be called up again after China is open) but I was thinking about that, and about needs, and I figured we just needed to triple the number of missionaries. That way we could maintain the current areas, cover China, and also cover the other areas that were closed. (There are less of those now then there were. The first six proselytizing missionaries left for Cambodia the day I came home.) Perhaps the correct total would be 144000. That would be a good symbolic number.

While I was thinking these thoughts, I also thought about tripling the number of temples, which seemed necessary to keep pace. There were about 45 then, so I just rounded up to 150, but then I thought with the time involved that would take an impossibly long time.

Well, the number of missionaries has gone up. In the 2007 statistical report it was 52,686, which is impressive, but not even close to tripled. However, there are currently 128 temples in operation, with another 17 announced or under construction. Just based on my thinking that would be good, I could not have believed it possible. If the prophet had said we would have it, I would have found it difficult to imagine. I would have believed it, but not seen how. Things can happen amazingly fast.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow – 318.5

I wanted to provide a little bit of context for yesterday (at least for the poetry part; I think the day itself and how it progressed was pretty clear).

Many years ago, when I was a missionary, they had a conference for the sisters, and one of the workshops was using humor to deal with adversity. The sisters presenting it had many different ideas and stories, but one thing that they mentioned that stuck with me was writing a poem after having some really bad times.

Several months later, my companions and I had a horrible week. The weather was foggy and horrible, we weren’t getting any mail, people weren’t there when we arrived for appointments, people who were there asked us to stop coming, and when a letter finally did come for me, it told me that one of our cats, Rosy, had died. The nadir arrived one night when we had been at our apartment, and needed to briefly go to the church for a quick meeting.

We didn’t want to carry everything back to the car, so we did not have anything with us. I believe there was no one else there for the meeting when we arrived, so it was a useless trip anyway, but that doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that on our way back, on this dark and foggy night, we got a flat tire. We couldn’t see what we were doing, we did not have any phone numbers or change with us, so we just decided to walk back to the apartment, arriving after curfew, and worry about it in the morning. We did call the district leader to explain, and maybe get some sympathy or commiseration, and nada.

(Of the many problems with male-female communication, the most annoying may be the tendency of males to want to resolve and forget, rather than listen and sympathize. They just do not get it.)

Anyway, missionaries write weekly letters to the mission president, reporting on their activities, and I wrote a poem, getting it all out. Sister Metcalfe’s letter just referred to my letter, saying, “That about covers it.” Then we pretty much forgot about it, except the APs (assistants to the president) showed up at our apartment a few days later. We were confused, and they seemed kind of awkward, and then finally they just said, “Sister Houck was kind of worried about you.” The Houcks had read the letter, and did not realize that the poem had gotten in out of our system. To be fair, that conference happened while we were still under the Botts, so they didn’t know about the workshop. We just burst out laughing, and then assured them we were fine.

Christmas Eve day was truly horrible, and that was especially true in that the only reason I was even out there was to try and prove that something could actually go right, and that the weather was not going to win, and that failed. My sisters and I were talking, and unanimously agreed that this was the worst Christmas ever. (Runners up were the year Dad left, the very tense year before Dad left, and the year Weston’s bone cancer became unbearable we had to take him to Dove Lewis and put him down. The vet had seen him the day before, and we thought we were going to have more time, but he took a turn for the worse during dinner.)

However, I got home and found several supportive messages on Facebook, we had dinner and played Scrabble, and I read A Christmas Carol. The next day there were no presents, but it was a very quiet day (even Misty didn’t come), and we just kind of enjoyed each other, and it was okay. I’m still glad it’s over, and I will be glad when 2008 is over. I’m hoping it will make a difference.

In addition to finding support, and having some good quiet time, I did write the poem and that exorcised the bad feelings. I guess it’s a little bit punk rock. Let me digress again.

When Lance, Julie, and Maria went to Metallica, they had an extra ticket. Lance and Lynn came over for dinner first, and then Lynn was going to hang out with us during the concert. She and I went to get the pizza together, and she jokingly asked me why I wasn’t going. I said, “I guess I’m not angry enough.”

That is a fair reason not to be a fan of Metallica (even though I appreciate them and can tell they are good at what they do), or metal in general, but I am a punk rock fan and that is associated with anger as well. However, when I am listening to punk, or at least the punk I like (Ramones, Clash, Rancid, not the Sex Pistols), I don’t hear the anger. I find it kind of joyful. I know they are writing about horrible things, like child abuse and drugs and alienation, but that’s not how it makes me feel. It’s almost like they take the bad, but then they make a joke of it, and the joke is fun even if the inspiration for the joke wasn’t, and so they get it out of their system. Maybe metal just needs a better sense of humor.

The point of all this is, of course, that no one needs to be worried about me.

So that explains the yesterday; what about today and tomorrow?

I’ve been diverting away from my intended writing quite a bit, following my emotions, which is fine, but I do want to wrap some things up. Similarly to what I did before leaving on that fateful trip to Australia, I shall be writing every day till the year is over. We have wonderful things in store, covering a three-part series on the end of the world, a review of significant events of 2008, and a preview of the future.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Giving into the bitterness for a day – 319

‘Twas the day before Christmas
And I was outside
Hoping that Tri-met
Could give me a ride
To Washington Square
Before Christmas-tide.
Julie had ordered
A cookie for dessert
Weeks before winter
Had frozen the earth.
We wanted to get it
Because it was pre-paid
But it won’t always matter
If plans are well laid.
I had tried on the Monday,
But the bus never came.
This time I left earlier.
My task, it was lame,
And I knew it, and yet,
In my mind it became,
A symbolic quest.
The year’d been a bad one,
There was no doubt.
For the past three months,
Of work I had been out.
Maria’s work had to stop holiday pay,
And she was not getting paid for snow days,
Julie’s job will make cuts
In the new year,
So that news gave us
Something extra to fear.
Loved ones had left us
Too fast for goodbyes,
Plans were canceled for snow,
That was covered by ice.
Sorry Karlin, sorry Lisa,
Maybe next year,
Sorry Lance, Lynn, and Laura,
But it’s no time for tears,
Forget about the concert, it’s not worth the risk.
It was only Chris Botti, buy a compact disk.
We would have liked to see you,
We could have had a ball,
Hopes and plans are dashed away, dashed away all.
So a cookie doesn’t matter,
Not really, I know,
But I just wanted something to go right,
As I stood in the snow.
I’d gotten up early,
To combat two seizures,
But the dog did recover, so why waste the day.
I got bundled up and went on my way.
First 57, the wait wasn’t too bad.
54 takes a bit longer, but came, I was glad,
Just one more transfer, to 56
And I waited, and waited, out there in the sticks.
One person gave up, but we others stood firm
And finally a bus pulled up to the berm.
The sign said 56, to Washington Square.
I found a seat and grabbed my book—
We were on our way there.
But the bus didn’t turn on the street where it should have,
This couldn’t have happened, no, this year, it could have.
The bus said 56, but it was 54
And I just didn’t feel I could bear anymore.
I got off at Fred Meyer, and just bought a cake,
Defeated, I admit it, but it was all I could take,
And I realized as I walked out of the store,
Coat and gloves were still there, but my scarf was no more.
So that’s been our season, it has been tough luck,
At least it is ending, and I don’t give a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dances with death – 317.5

Just after I finished my most recent blog entry I found out that a childhood friend had died. So I woke up losing my uncle and went to bed losing my friend. I have to admit, I’ve had better days, and weeks, and months, and probably years.

Since I was already feeling like I could not take anything else, that and the weather and the increasing tensions here at home would make it very easy to just wallow in self-pity now, but I don’t really want to do that. I have been thinking very serious thoughts.

For me, one death always seems to bring back memories of every other death, or maybe it is just similar ones. Josh reminds me of Matt and Jason and Eric. I guess I am still at an age where when someone of my generation dies it seems fundamentally unfair. Give me thirty or forty years, and maybe it will just be a reminder that my days are numbered (which is true now too, but I am not feeling it).

Usually every time someone has died there has been some sort of lesson in it for me, maybe just helping me to make the loss meaningful. Jason died rock climbing in Australia. I saw him right before he left, and he looked so good—just happy and excited to be going. I couldn’t believe that his trip ended that way, and I suppose it could be seen as a reason not to do adventurous things, but I never ended up feeling that way about it. I wanted to go on and do things that I would feel great about.

Eric was a great guy, and anyone who knew him would say that. What I eventually realized was that I had never had a bad encounter with him. He just radiated kindness and cheer, and I learned that you can do that. You can make every encounter a pleasant one, and that you never know when the last one will be.

So, now Josh is gone. We were pretty close from second through sixth grade. Then I went to Five Oaks and he went to Mountain View, and when we met up again at Aloha he was heavily into drama and I had turned my back on it in ninth grade, so we didn’t cross paths much. From then on, most of my memories of him are watching him perform.

Even if he was not really a part of my current life, I am grateful for the part he played back then. We had a lot of fun together, and as far as I know we never had crushes on each other, so it was just innocent and fun with no pain. Not until now.

I can still learn though, and the main lesson I have gathered this time is just to remember to stay in touch. I have mentioned how much I appreciate Facebook now, and being able to be in touch with people that I have not seen forever. Facebook is actually how I found out he was gone, and then along with the memorial service, blogs have allowed me to share memories and grieve, and doing that communally helps.

We do help each other. Monday night, the hugs and the stories helped. Just being there helped. I went with one friend to talk to Josh’s mother and brother, and I thought we were doing okay, but then we walked off she fell apart a little, and said “I don’t know what to say”. What I realized right then was that it was okay if the words weren’t right, because we all know. Everyone there knew that there is a hole in the world that is the size and shape of Joshua, and that we are grieving for that, and we are doing that together. Anyway, I felt understood. And stupid, a little, because I had shared a story earlier, and I didn’t feel like what I said was quite right or quite what I wanted to say, but it was enough.

That may only work in some situations, and in others there will be people who will misinterpret or even be mean, but I know I have reached out more in this last week, and I have not regretted it. In fact, I was really incoherent in one of my outreaches, and it was still well-received and not regretted.

I know that Josh’s family and those who were currently in his life are hurting more now, and I am thinking of them, and praying that their hearts will be comforted. I know that as much as it hurts to know that Zio Paolo is gone now, it will feel worse the next time we go back, where he used to be. The first hugs with Luciana and Valeria and Alice are going to feel like knives. But they will still be healing, because we will be sharing our love and grief and connecting with each other, and I will still be grateful to be with them again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Status update – 314

Now that I have finished reconciling my political and religious beliefs, and there was mention of the Apocalypse, I was going to do some follow-up on that which would be pretty cool—even if maybe a little scary and weird. I think I will still do that, but right now I just need to go over my life and what’s happening in it. Maybe I need to vent a bit.

None of the jobs I am applying for are working out. It’s a rough market of course, and the hard part is in most cases you don’t even hear back. I have gotten three signs of possible interest, but two turned out to be a little shady, and the one found out my wage history and didn’t want to waste my time anymore. I might have pressed harder, but it had come out that even though they called the job customer service, sales are a strong component, and you are really supposed to try and go for the add-on sales on every single call. I have a negative capacity for sales. Knowing I need to ask people for money makes me physically ill. So, pressing to take a wage I could not live on at a job that would make me sick didn’t seem like the thing to do, though I did think about it. After all, the money concerns are strong, and they have been joined by sick pets, car problems, and layoff concerns for other family members.

On the screenwriting side, I have three screenplays done. I feel like I come up with stupid titles, but they are Jade Mask, Between the Lines, and Hungry. I wasn’t really sure what to do in terms of marketing, because most production companies won’t take anything unless it is through an agent or an entertainment lawyer, and getting an agent with no track record used to be impossible. I thought maybe if I could get some screen treatments for other ideas set up, and called agencies with three completed scripts and six treatments, at least a few would have to take me seriously. I didn’t know how to do a screen treatment though, and I felt like I should be doing networking. So, I went through LDS Linkups and sent a message to almost every single person with film mentioned in their occupation.

I got a few helpful responses, and some less so, but one common thread was that three screenplays was not a bad start for finding an agent. Currently screen treatments are running at around thirty pages, and I had to put that idea on hold because I can’t justify spending the time to write that out when I could actually be working on a script. Well, if a potential buyer specifically requested it, yes, but otherwise no. So, a few days ago I printed out the list of agencies on the WGA site, and started calling.

It’s a horrible process. The third most common response is that they don’t really take literary clients. When I’m done I’ll send a list of those to the WGA, but one of the offices said they had told the WGA to take their information down already.

The second most common response is that we are not taking new clients, or at least not this year, but the most common response is that we only take referrals. (There was one very complicated one where they are not taking any new pitches, or literary clients, until after the New Year except by referral.) Some have machines, but at this point I cannot leave messages. Whether it would be a callback for the express purpose of rejecting me, or no callback because they are completely ignoring me, I am just not up to it right now.

On the plus side, when every answer is negative, you can make pretty fast progress. I only have about 64 calls left. The down side is that all of those rejections wear a girl down. (Also, I kind of think it’s silly to only look at referrals. For an actor it might make sense, but any agent worth his salt should be able to read a script and see if it’s any good and know if it’s marketable. I suppose it is to save the work of going through lots of scripts that aren’t any good, but isn’t anyone afraid of missing the next big thing?)

It may sound like an exercise in futility, but I guess I consider it to be dues paying. You don’t know what will come through so you need to try everything. I do have a few web sites I can check, and one of the LDS linkup guys and his brothers may film some of my stuff. There wouldn’t be any money in it necessarily, but it could provide some exposure.

Of course, I have come up with a secondary problem, which is that I find that even if I got an offer, I don’t think I could sell Hungry. All along it has been one that I thought I would film independently, because I love it too much to let someone else have it. It is the third one I’ve written, but it is an idea I have been working on since I was fourteen, and it has changed a lot since then, but it is still really a part of me. I thought I had changed my mind, because really it is very marketable and I have no idea when I would be ready to make a film, but as I have worked on it and crafted it, I know I can’t.

What makes that worse is that in my always thinking I would film it myself, I always thought Mitch would be a part of it. At first I thought he would be the vampire, and then I thought he would be the hero, and honestly, he could do either, but still, he was always in it, and so I miss him more as I am working on it, and I have to be honest with myself. I am still in love with him, without any logic or reason. I still think all I need is one reciprocal relationship to get me over him, but I don’t even know what those look like.

That is another point right there. Every year I find myself at the end of the year alone, and somehow that seems to be worse around the holidays. However, as we reach the New Year I always start feeling a little bit of hope and optimism and think, well, maybe next year there will be someone. This year, not only is there still not anyone, but I am unemployed. And I thought just being lonely was bad!

So today I was going to call through L on the agent list, and polish some scenes, and look for some conventional jobs as well, but when I woke up I heard my mother crying, and talking in Italian, and although I did not want to believe it I knew that it meant that my uncle Paolo had not recovered from his heart attack, and that he was gone, and I don’t know how productive I’m going to be today. I’m just a little down.

I’m not depressed. I remember what that was like. I wanted to die, and I wanted to die not just because of how much I hurt but because I could not believe that things would ever get any better. I know things will get better here. I will find a job, or I will sell a screenplay (or both), or I will finally, after making it into their contestant database three times, finally get called to go on Jeopardy. Something good will happen financially.

With my uncle, that one’s harder, but I am so glad Mom and I went in May. More than that, I am grateful for the Resurrection, and that I know he is okay. I don’t even know how I would feel for that.

So, my mental soundtrack right now is “I’m Not Okay” (My Chemical Romance, old school version), but really, I am okay. More accurately, I know that I will be okay and that keeps me from being completely un-okay now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Why I am not a Republican, Part 3 – 316

I really think I can finish this today. I hope I’m not being too ambitious. The question is whether I can get gun control, environmental issues, and the apocalypse all together.

Gun control and supply side economics were the two issues that really caused me to register as a Democrat back when I turned 18. We’ve already covered my economic feelings, and my feelings on guns haven’t really changed either. Naturally, I don’t favor a total ban on guns, but I can’t help but see that a gun makes killing really easy. You don’t need to get particularly close to the person, there are different levels of skill but you don’t need to be particularly skilled, and it can all be over very quickly. Those seem like good reasons to have some rules and regulations.

People use the slippery slope argument against this—that if you ban plastic guns and armor-piercing bullets now then blink and the government will be seizing all of your guns. If you try to argue that no, it is possible to have different gradations and levels, they make an argument that people are stupid. Okay, I admit I can see this, and there is plenty of evidence for it. Regardless, the process of legislation is slow, and somewhat deliberate, and even after a law passes it needs to meet constitutional requirements, and so yes, I really believe it is possible that we can find a middle ground here. Am I overly optimistic? Perhaps, but we do have laws and regulations about cars, and lots of people still drive.

Now, the reason that I put control with constitutional concerns and the environment is that I believe a lot of the fundamentalists who want to hang on to their guns feel this is necessary because of end of the world scenarios where they will need to fight off marauders intent on stealing their food storage. This goes along with the other things because many people who don’t worry about the environment base that on the fact that the whole thing is going to burn up anyway.

I can see that, and remembering that is actually how I keep from despairing about how bad things are getting, but I have always felt that you should not be a part of the problem. Consider Mormon 8:31: “Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations…”

It certainly isn’t an invitation to participate in the whoredoms, and He will clean those up too. Why should we take a casual approach to the sanctity of Earth? Destroying the beauty and the variety is really an ungrateful approach to what we have been given. I would call it grossly ungrateful and irreverent.

People get weird and stupid about this too. There was some controversy several months ago because some school wanted to show An Inconvenient Truth in their science classes. Several parents objected to the political nature of it (telling me they have not seen the movie, because it was not strongly political), others objected to the fuzzy science of global warming, and one letter amazed me. His point was that the Bible says the earth will get warmer so it can burn, and maybe this is just the fulfilling of Biblical prophesy. Okay.

I think there are a few points to make here. One good thing to remember is that often prophesies are the way God knows things will be, and so tells the prophets. Yes, there are things that He makes happen, like sending a Savior or a flood, but sometimes it is us (back to those murders and abominations), so just because it was foretold doesn’t automatically make it fine. This is where I sometimes get fatalistic about causes, because there are some battles that I know we are not going to win, and I can bear that because the Second Coming will fix everything, but I’m not going to climb on the enemy bandwagon either. There are some things we can make better, and those are worth doing.

For example, there was a project suggested to put in windmills off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The property owners objected because it would ruin their view. (I know, windmills are so ugly!) Anyway, the interesting thing about this is that the area is largely fueled by coal, and that there is a really high juvenile asthma rate (high adult rates too, but it is worse for children, probably because their lungs are still developing). I know that making that conversion would not end the global warming crisis, but it wouldn’t hurt that and wouldn’t it be nice to get some kids off inhalers? And I certainly don’t want to be the person who decides that my view is more important than other people breathing clean air. (Because the people with the asthma are not the ones with coastal property. They are the ones living in the cities and near the coal plant.)

I won’t deny that bad times are coming, and that there is not a lot that can be done to prevent it, but I will still do whatever can be done to make things better. If one polar bear is saved, or one person doesn’t get murdered, it all comes down to the individual, really. Think about it, with Hurricane Katrina (which was related to global warming, but was greatly exacerbated by government problems before, during, and after), it isn’t really that 1,833 people died. It is that one person died, and that happened 1,833 times.

We all understand loss, but we don’t really grasp big numbers, so we go kind of numb to them. Frequently we get around this by focusing on a small part, like a firefighter carrying one child away in Oklahoma City—one child who died. With Mumbai, we focus on one child who was orphaned. It is the individual that matters, and so anything we do matters because it can affect an individual. It’s great to think globally, but it may be more valuable to think locally, if for no other reason than because your odds of success are better.

So, what about that white horse prophecy, where the constitution will hang by a thread and it will be up to the church members to save it? I haven’t really been able to establish its truthfulness. It’s certainly possible, and defending it even might require guns, but here is my question: Has there been anyone up until now who has done more damage to the Constitution than George W. Bush?

Think of the Bill of Rights, and how the Patriot Act has cut into it, with rights to speedy trial and rights against unreasonable search and seizure. How has privacy and the rule of law been damaged by warrantless wire-tapping.

Even if you decide to scrap the Bill of Rights (which is really the heart of America, and the values), and decide to just go with the Constitution itself (how the government will work), then think about the concentration and expansion of executive power, and the shifting around of the office of the Vice President so that Cheney will claim to be legislative one day and executive the next, basically so he can avoid answering for his actions. Think about the value of the checks and balances that were written into the government, and the implications of signing statements under this administration. Think about the politicization of the Justice Department. I’ve seen the signs, and I don’t think that Obama is the Anti-Christ, but if the role of the Beast will be filled by an American president, the Bush administration has presented a priceless gift. Great job guys.

So there is one area where I get really ticked off about this orthodoxy of Republican-good/Democrat-bad. Not just Democrat-bad, actually, but also that Democrat equals automatically unpatriotic. You seem to have confused love with enabling—this could be an issue in future relationships.

I’m not sure if I have really made it clear how all of this ties together for me, but let me put it this way. If I believed that it was correct and appropriate to try and hurry up the Second Coming by encouraging environmental degradation, government corruption, and societal collapse, I would vote Republican every single time.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sex education – 314

Believe it or not, I have had strong theories about sex education for a long time, and the recent election had me thinking about the topic more. It’s not just the expression of barely suppressed crazy-eyed rage on McCain’s face during the third debate when Obama thought that we could all support using education to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, but also Bristol Palin and 4parents.gov.

You might have already guessed that I would continue my pro-thought stance, but let’s combine it here with the old adage that knowledge is power. I feel empowerment is the key. Specifically it needs to be age-appropriate empowerment on how not to be exploited, and how to be healthy.

One thing that got me thinking was an episode of Law & Order SVU (Contagious). A young girl was abused, she was pressured to name her abuser but terrified into initially naming the wrong person (and ruining his life), because the real abuser had threatened to kill her. What occurred to me was that anyone who is telling you not to tell is really demonstrating that you have the power. He didn’t kill her—he got arrested. Now, I’m not saying that it would have been good for her to tell him, right after the threat, that she was going to tell, but yes, get to a safe place, and then tell.

That is something to let kids know, and it may actually be a more valuable lesson than specifically telling children about sexual abuse. It seems that when children are being molested, they know it is wrong, whether they have had that explained to them or not, and if you try to tell them what to look out for you can get them feeling weird about sitting on laps or hugs if you throw in too many euphemisms or go too much the other way. But yes, you can talk about things that hurt, and things that make you sad, and that those things should not be secret.

In terms of the mechanics of sex, that can probably wait until they are slightly older. The one sex talk I remember getting from my mother must have been when I was four, as I think I asked after I found out she was pregnant with my younger sisters. She gave me an analogy about seeds being planted that I took far too literally, but that’s probably okay. I later got the straight details from the book “Where Did I Come From?” that the girl next door had. I would have been between eight and ten, and this is an excellent book for that age.

As the older children start turning into young adolescents, they still need to know how to protect themselves, and that means far more than condoms. My thoughts here are largely influenced from when I first read about Neil Goldschmidt and the fourteen-year old girl. The media took flack for referring to it as an affair instead of sexual abuse, and I can see how that happened. At the time, I bet both Goldschmidt and the girl would have agreed that the term affair was more accurate than abuse. Regardless, it is abuse, and I doubt the abuser is completely blind to the lack of equality in the relationship—it’s probably one of the perks. What I remember learning then was how it destroys the victim. After effects generally include (among other things) alcoholism and employment problems, both of which had been issues for the victim. It may sound stupid to throw self-esteem issues in there, but you know, the self-respect of any teenage girl tends to be a little fragile, and one big issue with any abuse of children and adolescents is that they are still forming their world views, in terms of how they think things work, and what’s okay. You do more harm by abusing them than you can to an adult simply because of that.

Anyway, what occurred to me, as someone who had two teachers who later ran off with students (three if you count the girl’s soccer coach, but that was a former student, not current student), is that no one ever really told us that. Sure, you can think that getting involved with an old man would be gross, and yet there are teachers who are attractive, and students who are vulnerable, and obviously, the possibility is there. So maybe it is worthwhile to tell students that an adult or person in power who is interested in you is a pervert. This is not because you are not attractive, but because the job of adults is to be protective of the young, and this is exploitation. Because this is someone who will like being able to dominate you and control you, even if initially there is feigned interest in your thoughts and wants. And because the legacy of people who give into this is pain that you will be tempted to numb with substances, and an inability to achieve goals or even obtain minimal stability. Let the potential prey understand the predator so that it will be easier to resist.

Once you have the creepy molesters out of the way, there is still the issue of what information you can appropriately give teens about sex. Many people who are against sex education seem to feel that any mention of the topic will give the kids ideas, especially if you try and teach them how to avoid the risky things like catching diseases and getting pregnant, so let’s not mention the word and turn these docile innocents into raging bags of hormones. Except, if they have ever been out in the world at all, the ideas are there, and even if you have somehow kept them in a bubble of isolation, the hormones are still there. And that’s great, they should be. The hormones were put there by the same God who says that you will be happier if you don’t base your actions on your hormones. There is no real benefit to withholding that basic knowledge.

Most of my knowledge comes from tenth grade health class, where we watched many movies and read statistics about pregnancy and STDs (as well as drugs, smoking, drunk driving, and eating disorders). We did learn about the different types of birth control, and that might have even been back in junior high, though the memory is a little foggy. However, although that information is good, it is really not a sufficient education. Risks will not scare teens out of doing things, because all teenagers know that they are immortal and that stuff doesn’t really happen. They might use the birth control, but you can’t count on statistics sinking in. Those of us who were not engaging in risky behaviors were generally doing it for personal beliefs.

That being said, there are a lot of good reasons for waiting, and there are things you could say that might sink in. I don’t see that the average teenager is afraid of getting the clap (though there was an outbreak at one of the area schools my junior year), but they are afraid of rejection, and getting their feelings hurt, and a lot of emotional things that do end up getting tied in with sex. It turns out that many of my friends who got early starts did not particularly enjoy them, or feel good about them afterwards.

One of my earliest memories about this did not actually involve a friend. This was back in eighth or ninth grade, and back then my social group was still all good girls who were never going to do that (this changed over the next two years). Anyway, I was walking down the hall with one guy, and there was a girl, D, in front of us. Her boyfriend, J, came out from a room, and seeing her in front he gave her a swat on the rear, and she looked back in fake shock, and then he put his arm around her, and they walked off together. The guy I was with (let’s call him B) told me that J was just hanging out with D until she gave in, and then he would dump her. I remember seeing them about two weeks later, near each other but not together, and she shot him a look of pure hatred and I knew it had happened.

That is not an uncommon story. I wonder now if I should have tried to warn her. “Hey, do you like dating J? Don’t sleep with him,” but we weren’t friends and I don’t think that conversation could have gone well. Maybe the more shocking thing was that I don’t remember B thinking much about it one way or the other. He was a nice guy. Maybe it did bother him. More to the point, I know it bothered her, and it’s just a really crappy thing to like someone, and believe he likes you, trust him, give yourself to him, and then realize that you were just a chump, And I bet she didn’t have a good time that night either.

For real empowerment, there needs to be honesty. That means that you need to admit that sex feels good and there are strong natural cravings that at times may seem like they will drive you crazy (but they really won’t, and you will not explode). But admitting that allows you to be honest about what sex will not do. It will not make you feel loved when you are not loved. It certainly does not prove love. It will not make you popular, at least not in the way you would like.

Empowerment also means helping teens know how to feel loved, and satisfied, and to build good relationships, and not go with someone who does not respect you. (And, for girls at least, maybe everyone, it should probably always include some self-defense classes.)

This is embarrassing, but due to a relative who shall not be named, I get a little more exposure to 7th Heaven than I am really happy about (they seem a bit self-righteous for how much they lie, but maybe that’s just me). Anyway, as far as I can tell, two of the main characters have had premarital sex. The one had an STD scare that made him stop doing it, and the other got a girl he didn’t care about pregnant and lost the girl he really loved. I just think it’s a little dishonest. Lots of people experiment without having those things happen, and teens know this, and will be rightly skeptical. This will not win them over.

Also, since these discussions are generally about what schools will do (rather than churches or parents), well, a public government-financed school cannot tell teens that they should wait until they are married to have sex or it’s a sin. Parents can, but if they don’t explain why the kids may not listen to well. (And I am probably also strongly influenced by my belief that commandments are not arbitrary, but that there are good reasons for every one that relate to our happiness.) Anyway, calling it bad will probably not be effective when it sounds so fun.

However, I think there is something that can be said that will still be helpful. We can teach teens to have made the decision of when sex will be appropriate before they do it. Marriage is a great choice, but after completing college, or even after graduating high school, can be good goals. If they are not ready to decide that they want to put it off that far, they can think again in six months and review. Encourage them to think about what would be acceptable to them, in terms of where they are in their life, and how they feel about the person and the circumstances. Maybe they will want to set standards for how long they have been dating someone, or that it can never be in a car, or can never involve lying or alcohol. The point is, they will be coming up with a standard, other than simply being alone with someone (maybe a little bit buzzed) and the kissing feels good and there goes the hand and clarity of thought has just left the building. (And obviously, when you are having this discussion, you should also discuss the kinds of situations that make you forget smart choices you made and throw them over for foolish ones.)

This is really allowing the teen to take ownership of their life and sexuality, and this is scary, but they need to. One study a while back showed that promise rings and vows of chastity were only effective if the number of students participating was below a certain amount. The conclusion was that the teen needs to feel a certain amount of uniqueness to stick to abstinence. It seems more likely to me that maybe the issue is that when more students are participating, you might have some teens taking the pledge because of peer pressure, rather than a sincere belief in its value. That can be seen as a positive peer pressure, but if it doesn’t stick that might be one really great argument right there against abstinence-only education. Teach teens that they are valuable, and that they deserve to be respected, and how to maintain that.

It won’t be foolproof. I remained chaste (by choice) because of my religion, but there were kids of the same religion who did not, so that’s not a rule, and there were kids who weren’t religious who at least waited until after high school for reasons of their own.

I know it gets hard for some parents, because they don’t want their kids to have sex, but they did, and they feel like hypocrites. However, think about why you don’t want them to do it. Do you have some regrets? You can share that honestly. Please remember that honest communication will probably need to focus more on the motivations and emotions than on recounting the lurid details, or the conversation can quickly move south. But also remember that having open communication will be huge in terms of knowing what is going on in their lives. Some of the friends who made the worst choices had the most clueless parents, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. It wasn’t a lack of love, but whether it was due to fear, or preoccupation with other things, or a desire to be liked, they let things slip by that they should have seized upon.

Obviously, parents play an important part in making sure that their children feel loved, and know to treat others with respect, and have respect for them selves, and there should be a commitment to being educated about that. One thing I remember about The Five Love Languages was that he said when he had young clients with problems who did not feel loved, they always were loved—it just wasn’t getting through to them. Before I have children I will re-read it, and before I have teenage daughters I will re-read Reviving Ophelia, and before I have children starting school I will re-read Food Fight (the Brownell-Horgen one). I’m sure other books will join that list. Tell me your favorites.

Okay, so my mother did not teach me the mechanics of sex, and honestly, my older brother and sister got sex talks from Dad and they found them more traumatic than helpful. However, there were some things they did right. Dad got us going to church, and even after he stopped going, half of us kept going and that did make our lives better. My mother also has been good for me maintaining a healthy attitude about sex because she never tried to make us feel like it was bad or gross, but there was always that standard that it is something that is great for bringing a husband and wife closer together. No one in the family is a prude, but those of us who have chosen chastity don’t regret it.

I admit, not all of us did, and even with better more effective parents, that might still have been the case. Respectfully and honestly empowering teens will not completely eliminate teen sex. But you know what else won’t? Abstinence-only education.